Saturday, January 22, 2011

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach: I wasn’t really into non-fiction until I started reading Mary Roach. After covering cadavers, the afterlife, and sex, her latest book is about space. Specifically, what happens to astronauts in outer space: from bone loss to zero-gravity toilets and what it would take to keep astronauts alive on a long-haul journey to Mars.

Overall Quality: Excellent, like her others. (Come on, any book including a thoroughly researched chapter on whether anyone has ever had sex in zero-gravity is automatically a good one.) She asks all the questions your inner twelve year old has always wondered about. What would a space shuttle smell like after two weeks without bathing? What happens if you vomit in your spacesuit? And of course, how do you go to the bathroom in space? Funny, compelling, and I learned a lot about space exploration.

Bus Readability: Solid. Non-fiction is well-suited to being read in small chunks. Every chapter covers a different aspect of life off Earth, so if a chapter drags a little for you (one or two did for me), you’ll be riveted again by the next one. Physically, even the hardcover is light enough to hold with one hand, if you’re unlucky enough to be standing.

Cocktail Party Conversation Starter: Did you know NASA scientists once filmed volunteers defecating in zero-gravity?

TL;DR: Good book; good bus reading; but, sadly, no one has ever had sex in space.


  1. But is there a conversation as supremely awkward as the "Did one of your employees steal muscle tissue for the production of pork buns" bit?

  2. I think the most awkward conversation in this book is a tie between her asking an expert for details on the prehensile penises of dolphins and someone asking her companion at a research lab what he's drinking with lunch. Answer: desalinated urine.